KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense had been hearing all season about how bad they were, and how they were the biggest threat to an offensive juggernaut falling short of reaching the Super Bowl.
Then they shut down the Oakland Raiders in Week 17.
Now, the Raiders are hardly one of the NFL’s premier offenses, and they rolled into Arrowhead Stadium with little impetus to play hard. But by holding Derek Carr and the rest of the Oakland offense in check, it gave the Chiefs some positive momentum heading into the playoffs, not to mention proof that some subtle tweaks to their personnel packages had paid dividends.
“We just have to keep it rolling,” said linebacker Justin Houston, their longtime emotional leader. “It’s a great time for us to play like this. We were firing on all cylinders from the front to the back end (against Oakland) and now we just have to build off it.”
That’s because Andrew Luck and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts, who come to Kansas City (12-4) for the divisional round on Saturday, represent a massive upgrade in competition.
Luck threw the second-most touchdown passes in the NFL this season, behind the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, and enjoyed one of the best offensive line performances in the league.
Their offense isn’t a one-trick pony, either. They dominated the Texans on the ground in a 21-7 win in the wild-card game, when Marlon Mack piled up 148 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Also on Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys (11-6) play at the Los Angeles Rams (13-3) in a NFC divisional playoff game. On Sunday in the AFC it will be the Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) at the New England Patriots (11-5) and in the NFC defending NFL champion Philadelphia’s Eagles (10-7) are at the New Orleans Saints (13-3).
The Colts (11-6) have roared into the postseason with seven wins in eight games.
“Andrew’s going to get you every once in a while,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “and you’ve got to make sure you get him more than he gets you, but he’s got a lot of good players around him. That offensive line, people can argue with you that it’s the best in the National Football League. You look at the receivers, they’ve got good receivers, they’ve got good tight ends, you go all the way around.
“You’ve got to bring your best. That’s what the playoffs are all about,” Reid added. “This is the best in the National Football League, which is the best in the world, and you have an opportunity to do that. That’s an exciting thing, but you better bring your best every play.”
The question for the Chiefs is simple, though: Is their best good enough?
Indianapolis was fifth in scoring while the Chiefs were 24th in scoring defense. They were last in the league in rush defensive efficiency, average yards after contact and first-down percentage, and they were second-to-last in yards-per-carry allowed despite many teams trying to play catch-up.
As bad as those numbers were, though, the Chiefs were actually respectable against the pass. And they were downright dominant when it came to pressuring the quarterback, generating sacks on 7.4 percent of pass plays — better even than Khalil Mack and the Bears — and pressure on 31.1 percent of them.
That means an intriguing matchup between the Colts offensive line, which hasn’t allowed anybody to have more than one sack in a game since Week 4, and the Chiefs’ pass dominant rush.
“The goal and strategy remains the same,” Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “Run the football and set up other things by running it, and then be successful in situational football.”
The Chiefs made some key personnel changes late in the season, effectively benching veteran safety Ron Parker and cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Daniel Sorensen, Charvarius Ward and Jordan Lucas have been playing more, and their results against woebegone Oakland were encouraging.
The Chiefs also could get safety Eric Berry back after he missed Week 17 with a recurrence of his heel injury. Berry only played a couple of games this season, but he changed the entire dynamic of the Kansas City defense for the snaps he was on the field.
“We’ve just got to lock in,” Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller said. “For us, we’re inside this building. That’s the only thing we’re focusing on. I’m not a big social media guy. We just come together week-in and week-out, to win on Saturday. We just keep it in-house and focus on each other.”
Notes: Berry and WR Sammy Watkins (foot) participated in the portion of practice open to the media on Tuesday. DT Derrick Nnaddi (concussion) also said that he’d been cleared to rejoin practice. ... OLB Dorian O’Daniel did not practice because of a calf and ankle injury.